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Trump Hasn't Worn A Mask Publicly. Here's What Might Convince Him To

President Trump holds a mask as he speaks during a tour of the Ford Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump holds a mask as he speaks during a tour of the Ford Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday.

On this Memorial Day weekend, beaches have reopened and people are venturing outside. And images and videos have circulated of some crowded beaches, pools and boardwalks in Maryland, Florida, Missouri, Texas and California.

And many people didn't heed warnings and weren't wearing masks.

It's perhaps not surprising when you consider President Trump — who as president sets the tone for so much of the country, especially for his supporters — has refused to be seen wearing a mask publicly.

"I had one on before," Trump said last week at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan. "I wore one in this back area. I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it."

The "pleasure" of seeing it? It's odd that, as the country approaches 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the president would feel wearing a mask was somehow something the press might mock him for, especially when his own administration's guidelines say to wear one when out in public and within 6 feet of someone.

It's important to remember that Trump is the one who changed the narrative on wearing masks in the first place. It wasn't that long ago that his administration was recommending that healthy people not wear masks, so supplies weren't scarce for health care workers and first responders who needed them. Then it was Trump who told people that wearing face coverings and scarves could make a big difference.

So this idea emerging that being seen wearing a mask somehow is a virtue signal for which party you belong to— and some thinking it infringes on their civil liberties or makes them look weak — is just not helpful to stopping the spread of the virus.

Many Republican leaders are saying so, too.

"If someone is wearing a mask, they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support," North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, said in an emotional statement Friday. His voice started to break and he started to tear up, as he continued, "They might be doing it because they've got a 5-year-old child who's been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have COVID and they're fighting."

Similarly, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press: "This is not about politics. This is not about whether you are liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat."

Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted a warning Sunday that "the coronavirus is not yet contained" and he reminded Americans that "social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks protect us all."

Also on Meet The Press, the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, shifted the focus from health to the economy, making the argument to wear a mask this way: "Mask usage is going to help us get this economy reopened."

Maybe that's an argument that will stick with the president, and one — if he's convinced — he can translate to his conservative base, which has grown increasingly more concernedwith reopening businesses than the health impact of COVID-19.

But that's a big if.

5 things to watch this week

1. 100,000 coronavirus deaths: It's a staggering number, but the country is approaching 100,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It's something that was seemingly unfathomable two to three months ago. "You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero," Trump said on Feb. 26. A month later, in late March, he downplayed the deadliness of coronavirus again, saying 36,000 on average die from the flu every year: "So you say to yourself, 'What is this all about?' " At that point, just over 700 Americans had died from COVID-19.

States are reopening, and experts are concerned about potential spikes, especially if people flout social distancing restrictions the way some did this weekend.

Don't see the graphic above? Click here.

2. Joe Biden fallout: This week will be notable for whether Biden's remark Friday that "you ain't black" if you don't vote for him over Trump has legs beyond just yet another gaffe from the former vice president. It's exactly the kind of thing veteran Democratic strategists worried about with Biden as the nominee. Trump, of course, has his own history of inflaming racial tensions and divides and, at the end of the day, either Trump or Biden will be elected president, and black voters will have to decide who best represents them. Biden was already under pressure to pick a black woman for his running mate. How this controversy goes may make that more likely.

[Starting Tuesday, check out our special series on voting amid a pandemic.]

3. Trump goes to Baltimore, but its mayor doesn't want him there: Trump on Monday will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Baltimore's Fort McHenry. But the city's mayor said he doesn't think Trump should come. "We don't need to be spending our resources for the president who's coming here under our orders to stay at home. I think he's violating the law," Mayor Jack Young said last week.

Trump didn't win any friends in Baltimore last year, when he referred to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings' district in Baltimore as "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."

4. Speaking of going places others aren't supposed to...: Trump and Vice President Pence are scheduled to go to a NASA/SpaceX launch in Florida on Wednesday. But on May 1, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine urged Americans to stay away due to coronavirus concerns. "We're asking people not to travel to Kennedy [Space Center], but to watch online or watch on your television at home," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time the president has flouted his own administration's public guidance and declined to set an example. Trump is eager to show a country getting back to normal so he can tout improvement ahead of his reelection bid.

5. House vote on FISA bill: The House is expected to vote on renewal of key surveillance legislation Wednesday or Thursday, after the Senate passed it easily earlier this month.

There have been disagreements over just how much privacy the bill provides, with some saying it doesn't do enough and the Justice Department objecting to some changes that were made, saying they "would unacceptably degrade our ability to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and other national security threats." It's also not clear what the president thinks of the legislation.

This may also be the first time the House votes by proxy, after approving those historic changes recently.

Quote of the weekend:

"The vice president shouldn't have said it, but I really think the gall and the nerve of President Trump to try to use this in his campaign, he who has since day one done everything in his power, supported by his enablers, to divide this country, particularly along racial lines."

— Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., on CNN Sunday responds to Biden's "you ain't black" comments. Demings is being vettedas Biden's potential running mate.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.